Project Description

Colin Lane

Colin took the cover photographs on one of the most iconic albums of the first decade of the twenty first century – Is This It by The Strokes.

Born in New York City in 1966, Colin Lane moved with his family to Stamford, Connecticut when he was three years old. Colin saw Apocalypse Now when he was 12 or 13 – an event which inspired him to “do something visual” and, after taking photography classes in high school, went to film school at the University of Texas in Austin.

Austin had a great music scene in the 60’s and 70’s with artists like Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson and Colin’s time there from 1984-1990 was also an amazing time for music. He immersed himself in the live music scene and spent many nights at a roadhouse blues club called Antones where he saw blues greats including Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and Otis Rush. Colin recalls: “During my time in Texas I also saw Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, John Cale, Daniel Johnston, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Doug Sahm, the Grateful Dead and countless other amazing shows, including some outstanding local bands. At that time in Austin you were spoiled for choices on any day of the week.”

After making what he describes as “a bunch of cringe-worthy student films”, Colin decided film making wasn’t for him. Frustrated by the slow process and craving the relatively instant gratification of photography, he took four photography classes at the University of Texas, taught by “very esoteric, intellectual fine art photographers”. When he graduated, he returned to NYC where his older brother, who is also a photographer, connected him with an assisting job.

Colin assisted all kinds of photographers in New York, learning his craft on the job. He was lucky enough to work with fashion photographer Enrique Badulescu for three years in the mid to late 1990s. Badulescu thought outside the box and did a lot of non-conventional things with photography – which showed Colin other possibilities rather than the conventional and relatively straight-laced methods used by the photographers he had been working with up until then.

Around 1998 he started getting work of his own and obtained an agent in London. He lived in London for a short time shooting for i-D and The Observer magazine but when he ran out of money he went back to NYC and to his then girlfriend. Lucky thing too because not long after he returned he took a shot of her when she came out of the shower that ended up as the iconic cover of the first Strokes album Is This It, which launched his career.

First session with The Strokes, for The Face magazine.

January 2001, New York City.

The Face magazine shoot, 2001, rooftop
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Meeting The Strokes

Colin Lane recollects his introduction to The Strokes for us:

“In January of 2001 I got my first assignment from The Face to shoot a band called The Strokes. I had never heard of them – but I didn’t care. I was just happy to be shooting for The Face.

Little did I know that every label in the world was after them. They sent me the three song EP “Modern Age” that was floating around London (the one that Geoff Travis at Rough Trade supposedly heard 30 seconds of before he decided to sign them) and I knew right away that they were going to be big. I was really broke at the time but I went out and bought a bunch of beers and invited the band over to my apartment.

They came over on January 16, 2001 and we did some shots at my apartment (the headshots that are in the CD foldout of Is This It) and in my courtyard. We clicked. Then I asked them if they were up for a little adventure (they were) and we headed uptown in their rented van to sneak up on the roof of the Essex House Hotel on Central Park South. I’d been sneaking up there for years. It was a place I always took my out-of-town friends. I think it is 42 floors tall and from the top you get incredible views of Central Park to the north and midtown Manhattan to the south.

We parked illegally…they didn’t seem to care about getting tickets. They knew they were going to get a nice record deal and they knew they could just get whatever label they ended up on to pay the fines. We took the elevator to the top floor, found the stairwell and walked up to the roof. Then, for the first time ever, I got busted. An employee was on a cigarette break up there and gave us the boot. I was devastated and could only think that they must have thought I was a total asshole for bringing them all the way up there for nothing.

However, I knew of another, taller, skyscraper we could sneak up on across from Grand Central so I asked if they wanted to try that one. To my shock they said OK so we headed 17 blocks downtown – and this time we had success. The Lincoln Building was 53 stories tall and it was perfect….by the time we made it up there the sun was setting, the Empire State Building was lit up and it was beautiful. We got some great shots, one of which made it into The Face. It was their first “real” photo shoot. Fab said I was the first guy to shoot more than a roll of film on them! A month or two later they signed with RCA and when Tracy Boychuk, the art director for the album, asked if they knew anyone who could do the press shots they picked me…..probably because they didn’t know anyone else but also because I think they enjoyed our little “slightly illegal” adventure.”

The Face magazine shoot, 2001, courtyard
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Is This It

The classic Strokes first album cover photograph by Colin Lane

Is This It by Colin Lane
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Colin Lane shares the story behind the cover.

“I took that picture a year or more before I met the band. The girl in the photograph was my girlfriend at the time. I had just done a fashion shoot for The Observer Sunday magazine, I believe, and the stylist had left all of the clothes at my apartment to be picked up the next day. I saw the black Chanel gloves and asked my girlfriend to pose for some pictures with them. She had just gotten out of the shower and was like, “No I’m tired I’m going to bed”. I pleaded a bit and convinced her to do ten pictures (a pack of 665 polaroid).”

“Cut to the day we were doing the press shoot for Is This It, in the spring of 2001. The band were leaving the very next day for a tour of Europe and Australia and RCA was pressuring them to pick a cover before they left. Luckily for me I had brought my portfolio with me that day just so the band could see the kind of work I do. We were on the RV and Julian was flipping through it and saw The Ass Shot (as it has come to be called) and was like “That would be a cool cover. Would you mind if we used that?” Obviously I said of course not and so everybody was happy! We had a cover.”

Colin Lane’s back cover photograph for Is This It
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Press shoot for Is This It, Spring 2001.

Times Square
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Carling Festival, August 2002.

Julian sings
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“When I assisted Enrique and other fashion photographers we were always shooting the most gorgeous girls in the world in exotic sunny locations. Then, when I started my own career, I kept finding myself in dirty alleys with five greasy, pimply guys in ripped jeans and t shirts….in places like Manchester! I was like, “Wait a minute, where’s my Caribbean beach shoot?” But really I love it. I get along with musicians. I have no musical talent whatsoever but I’m the ultimate fan. I hope I’m still shooting pimply 20-year-olds in rock bands when I’m 80!”

Rehearsal room (2002)

Rehearsal room with American flag (2002)
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Colin continues:

“I became friends with them and for the first three or four years I was their go-to guy. It was my introduction to the world of rock and roll. I was the guy they trusted to come to their rehearsal space and come backstage. They took me on tour with them in 2002. I shot Ryan and Julian’s weddings. It was very exciting to be with them at that time in their career. They were just so good. Every song they played was great. It was exciting every time they played. And they were fun! Always laughing and joking. We played baseball in Central Park. I was on a soccer team with Julian and Nikolai. They loved to go bowling! Because of the Strokes I started getting a lot more music work. I haven’t done tons and tons like some music photographers, because I do other work as well, but I’ve been lucky to be associated with some amazing bands and musicians. Quality over quantity!”

Room on Fire sessions (2003)

Room on Fire press shoot 2003, rooftop
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Room on Fire press shoot 2003, studio
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